Gleaning is the ancient practice of collecting the remaining crop from the field after it has been harvested.
Gleaning is mentioned throughout the Bible. Additionally, nearly five hundred years ago the French passed a law that commanded French farmers to allow for the practice of gleaning by the poor in their fields, orchards, and vineyards. That law still stands today. The story of Oregon’s gleaning groups is only a recent chapter in the history of this ancient practice.
In Oregon, low-income gleaning groups were first established in the early 1970’s. At the height of low-income gleaning activity in the state, thirty plus groups involved over 10,000 low-income households in gleaning food and firewood and other self-sufficiency activities. The basic principle of low-income gleaning is that gleaners – able-bodied, low-income volunteers – gather crops, surplus or salvage foods and firewood to be shared equally among themselves and with adoptees (income eligible folks unable to physically glean), food banks, and group meal sites. This organizational model for gleaning groups is unique to the West and primarily employed in Oregon. Nowhere else in recent history have so many low-income people gathered together in this kind of work so consistently, for so long. Volunteer groups who donate their harvest to emergency food programs practice gleaning throughout our country, but seldom are recipients of this charity asked to join in the harvest.
Since 2006, new models for low-income and volunteer gleaning have emerged in Oregon. The Portland Fruit Tree Project employs an all-volunteer, urban gleaning model that draws on community members at all income levels to harvest fruit from backyard trees in the city. Half of the gleaned produce is donated to local food pantries and half remains with volunteers. Volunteer slots at each harvesting event are reserved for people living on low incomes. The recent economic downturn has driven interest in food self-sufficiency and as a result, gardening, canning and gleaning are experiencing an upswing.
A history of gleaning in Oregon
1972 – Monica Belcher, a homemaker, proposes the idea of a gleaning program as a nutrition and self-help program for low-income families to Washington County Community Action.
1973 – The Gleaning Project was organized and distributed fresh produce to 125 households.
1976 – The Metro Area Gleaning Cooperative was formed by Portland area Community Action Agencies. Five member gleaning groups harvested and distributed 300,000 pounds of produce to 1,129 families and food banks.
1977 – The Oregon Legislature passed a Tax Credit for farmers donating to gleaning programs equal to 10% of the wholesale value of the crop.
1979 – The Oregon Gleaning Project reports that 15 gleaning programs across the state harvested and distributed 798,817 pounds of produce to 2,348 member households.
1980’s – Community Action Agencies across the state shift their support to regional food banks as a solution to hunger. Gleaning groups become independent 501(c)3 organizations and continue to grow in size and number.
1990 – OFB and its network of 20 Regional Food Banks (RFB) are the primary source of hunger relief in the state. Only a few RFBs work in partnership with gleaning groups.
Late 1990’s – Food banks and gleaning groups realize that there is a need to work in partnership to meet the growing numbers of those in need.
1998 – OFB hires the state’s first Statewide Gleaning Coordinator with funds appropriated by the Oregon Legislature. A partnership is formed with the USDA Farm Service Agency to provide office space and support for the position.
2001 – Oregon’s Crop Donation Tax Credit is revised to cover already harvested crops that may be donated to a variety of charitable institutions that provide hunger relief.
2006 – The Portland Fruit Tree Project is launched in Portland. This all-volunteer, urban gleaning model draws on community members at all income levels to harvest fruit from backyard trees in the city. Half of the gleaned produce is donated to local food pantries and half remains with volunteers. Volunteer slots at each harvesting event are reserved for people living on low incomes.
2008-2011 – The economic downturn drives interest in food self-sufficiency- gardening, canning and gleaning are experiencing an upswing. New gleaning groups and models start up around the state in Salem, Corvallis, Eugene and Roseburg. Traditional low-income gleaning groups continue to operate in several parts of the state- 26 are still operational and members of the OFB network.
2012 – Crop Donation Tax Credit sunsets.
2013 – 40 years of low-income gleaning in Oregon